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SXSW Review: Blood Trail

March 17, 2009

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Challenging the audience with provocative and disturbing images, while allowing them time to laugh, ponder, and be inspired is a pretty heady task for any documentary, but is exactly what Blood Trail has done.

Perhaps one of my favorite films at SXSW (from what I have seen so far), Blood Trail follows the career of Memphis photographer Robert King as he begins his first war coverage to making Time Magazine covers to today, 10 wars later.

Following the path of someone from rookie to veteran is interesting enough, but Richard Parry and Producer Vaughn Smith also manage to examine the underbelly of war journalism, the pitfalls, dangers and mental trauma that occur when your job is to capture images of torture and death.

King was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn. The child of an alcoholic and divorce, King attributes his search to exercise his own demons led him to seeking out the lifestyle of a war photographer. Speaking in the present he notes that without picking up a camera he would likely be dead from drug overdose.

King unabashedly opens up and lets the camera into his world as it is as familiar to him as an old friend. We meet him first in Bosnia as a vulnerable first-timer seeking advice. When we next meet him in Chechnya, he is wiser, sharper, harder. We have lost some of the fun-loving innocent Robert. In his place is a wild man hopping from war to quick escape and back again.

But after meeting his wife while living in Russia, Robert settled into a calmer lifestyle – the Robert we see today is self-assured but not pretentious at the success he has had. He enjoys solitude of the woods while hunting as a way to escape now, rather than the heady lifestyle he once lived. He is now the one able to dispense advice rather than the early King that was ducking at the sound of bullets.

But, outside of King, the movie also gives us a glimpse into war-torn areas that perhaps are all too easy to ignore when flipping through the pages of a magazine or newspaper. An image King captures of a child’s head lying amidst a bombed out has haunted me since first seeing the documentary. Even now the image brings tears to my eyes. But it is only one of thousands that King has taken.

SXSW Screenings:

4:30 PM, Wednesday March 18th – Austin Convention Ctr

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